The Bipolar Job Seeker (November 9, 2010)

Bipolar

Yesterday, after four straight weeks of sending out oodles of resumes, using networking contacts, and applying for low paying internships without so much as a blip of interest from any employer, I scored a potential hit. Realizing that four weeks in this DOA job market isn’t a long wait, I immediately celebrated my good fortune. The position, a 6-12 month contracting role in internal corporate communications for a large firm in the Chicago suburbs, manages to marry several attractive elements at once.

In the first place, it’s a paid writing gig and when I found myself laid off almost two months ago, I didn’t set the bar for my next role any higher than that. But in addition the pay is good, the company is doing well, and I even like the transient nature of the position. One of the many reasons I have failed to succeed long term in the corporate world is the tendency to feel trapped and helpless at around the two year mark in a given situation. Once I have mastered my work, I want more, but the cubicle environment is famous for stifling ambition. However, were I fortunate enough to be offered this contract, the fear of claustrophobia is inherently removed.

At 5 PM yesterday, after I set up a time for a phone interview and logged off the computer, I decided to treat myself to a glass of wine. I knew better than to count my chickens. I hadn’t been hired yet. But the opening up of the employment channels at all was a vindication of sorts: my decision to invest fully in a writing career, rather than clinging to operations or administration (the old safe standbys) would eventually pay off. I am good enough, smart enough and doggone it, at least Erin, the recruiter who found my resume on CareerBuilder, likes me.

Therefore, as close to buoyant in mood as I ever get, I waited for my husband Eddie to come home so I could share the good news: plan my interview outfit, strategize about what experiences I should highlight with my interlocutors and which I should save for second string. Though the looming threat of disappointment always hangs around the edges of an interview experience, it is important to enjoy that sweet spot, the precious moments before the interrogation when anything seems possible. You are your smartest, most capable, most positive self. There is so much that is debilitating about the unemployment cycle, so it is vital to enjoy these fleeting moments.

And so it was that when my husband’s first piece of interview advice turned out to be “don’t fuck it up,” I crashed as quickly as I had ascended the emotional heights. Disbelieving my ears and wanting very badly for him to vindicate himself, I asked if he believed this was the right choice of words for instilling confidence. His reply: “well, it’s a genuine concern.”

I have written honestly, and at length about my battles with social awkwardness and volatile self-esteem. I am well aware that I do not always perform as I wish in front of a crowd. However, when it comes to interviews, and anything related to survival, like landing a job, evading police or patching up drunken injuries without a trip to the emergency room, my success ratio is darned close to impeccable. As we writers are sensitive types, is there anything more painful than hearing our deepest fears verbalized by a loved one? I had managed in the last month, to lull myself into the secure state of belief that if I could just secure a face to face interview, I’d be unstoppable. Yet here was my own spouse disclosing the uncertainty that I might screw myself out of opportunity by being a nervous loose canon.

Upon reflection after an evening spent wounded on my part, and groveling on my husband’s, it is apparent that Eddie stepped in a pile of unintended verbal diarrhea. Somewhere in my heart I know that he was awkwardly trying to advise me not to let nerves get the better of me, to have the confidence in myself that he has, to understand that I am qualified for this role, and even if I don’t get it, another like it will come my way. I just wish he would have stayed quiet until he knew better how to frame the discussion. Red wine doesn’t go very well with tears.

The Hustle (May 18, 2009)

Not that I am complaining, because I realize how lucky I am to have the time, will and support to pursue my dreams, but man, independent contracting sure is tiring. Not so much the work itself, although it is a challenge to quickly get yourself up to speed on a given topic so that you can write about it is a manner that sounds informed and authoritative. The part that wears one out is the endless game of cat and mouse: the moment you finish a piece and get reimbursed for it, you are onto the next one. No time to breathe. In between, you are looking through the want ads for full-time, part-time, and yet still more freelance work. It never ends. However that is the nature of the beast, what I signed for, and, as a competitive person, I relish the idea of having to sell and prove myself over and over.

On a daily basis, I comb through VirtualVocations.com and Craig’s List for freelance gigs. Then I am onto Monster and CareerBuilder for part-time and full-time writing work. It is important not to leave any of these four stones unturned. While it is true that Monster and CareerBuilder often overlap, the same cannot be said for Virtual Vocations or Craig’s List. I have to tip my hat to two women in my family, my A.D. and Jen, for bringing me up to speed on these venues in the Twitter age. The last time I was on the market for anything for a very brief period late in 2007. The career development landscape has apparently changed a good deal in 24 months.

So anyway, I have this image of myself, when I respond to the freelance writing gig posts, as a scalper selling premium seats outside Wrigley Field on game day. However instead of waving my product in the air repeating, “Tickets! Who needs tickets?,” I exchange the stubs for a copy of my resume, and my recent writing sample from StreetWise. Then I email blast each requestor with my information, as though they are so many sports fans parading down the sidewalk, offerring up my wares for bargain basement prices. It’s as though the game starts in 20 minutes and you can either accept the $15 bucks apiece being offerred to you by the father and his son, mitts in hand, or go home empty handed. To mix in yet another metaphor, every day is another episode of Let’s Make a Deal in my world. Do I respond to one of the endless requests for writers on short projects that entail no pay? Or do I hold out hope that those with some money in their budgets will like what they see from me?

I am an admitted control freak, though I have been trying to rehabilitate myself for the last nine months and counting. I am used to having things just so, and in the past, any threat to my equilibrium would keep me up all night. So what in the world am I doing venturing into freelance, with its hit and miss, stops and starts, and complete lack of security?

Answer: I am finally living.